While travellers cross the world to holiday in Fiji, this tropical gem lies right on our doorstep — and it’s so good to be back, writes Rhonda Bannister.
With over 300 lush Pacific Ocean islands and dozens of world-class (yet gloriously laid-back) resorts, Fiji is a beacon of romance and fun for lovers of all ages. A treasure-trove of dazzling coral reefs, gin-clear waters, squeaky white sand, and swaying palms, this is quintessential screensaver territory. The people of Fiji are another of its treasures, their welcoming presence so warmly genuine that you feel like a special guest in their home.
It’s no surprise this tropical paradise had topped our travel wish-list since the islands reopened in December 2021. And we’re not the only ones. With a flight time of just a few hours from New Zealand and any east-coast Australian city, Kiwis and Aussies have been snapping up flights like they were beach-bar cocktails. Lesson being: if you want some fun in the sun, lock in that Fiji holiday, stat.
When it comes to Fiji accommodation, this holiday destination has every category covered — from budget-friendly to upscale family-friendly to luxe adults-only, perfect for a romantic short break or honeymoon. We only had eyes for the latter on our recent trip, slipping into island time just 3.5 hours out of Brisbane.
There wasn’t a stroller in sight when we arrived at Lomani Island Resort on Malolo Lailai, the second biggest of the stunning Mamanuca Islands. Welcome drinks of fresh coconut juice and the melodic voices of the staff choir singing Bula Maleya, the traditional Fijian welcome song, brought smiles to every face as we gladly accepted our shell necklaces.
We’d just arrived, and I was already asking myself why we’d left it so long. Although it had been over a decade since our last trip to Fiji, my memories were fond and vivid of the toes-in-the-sand resorts and small ship cruising with Blue Lagoon Cruises and Captain Cook Cruises. It felt like a real Fijian homecoming.
It’s impossible not to fall in love with this boutique resort which sits in a vast coconut palm forest, its white buildings dotting the landscape like a broken pearl necklace dropped from above.
With only 30 suites and ‘bures’ (individual villas) to choose from, the property offers a delightful sense of seclusion. Our Beachfront Bure was spacious and beautifully furnished, with great attention to detail in the furnishings and artwork. The his-and-her bathroom sinks were such a bonus (I hate sharing!). The outdoor shower was also heavenly for showering à deux under the stars. Drinks were enjoyed on our private sundeck overlooking an emerald-green lawn that rolled softly to a silky white-sand beach and beyond to the incandescent blue of Malolo Bay.
Romantic? You bet — especially at sunset, when the golden colours of the setting sun morphed into a magical twilight, and the sky shimmered in shades of orange, pink and purple. To add a private plunge pool to this tropical idyll, opt for a Beachfront Pool Bure.
Hammocks strung throughout the resort’s manicured gardens and outdoor couches by the beach meant we were never short of a comfy place to drift off. The swimming pool, set between the beach and restaurant, was also a standout, with sun lounges and huge covered cabanas inviting relaxation.
Resort activities & beyond
With only four days, we couldn’t try everything on the list of free and paid adventures because the list was so long! Think sailing lessons, dolphin safaris, sunset cruises, deep sea fishing and golf plus plenty more. Still, we did go snorkelling around the coral gardens just offshore, tried the stand-up paddle boards (abject failure!), grabbed a couple of kayaks for a paddle, and jumped on bikes for a peddle over to the family-friendly neighbours, Plantation Island and Musket Cove Resort. I also had a cooking lesson (more on that later).
Our highlight was a trip out to Cloud 9, a two-level bar and wood-fired pizzeria that floats in the turquoise waters of Ro Ro Reef … in the middle of nowhere! We arrived before lunch to find dozens of couples and groups of friends reclining on day beds, enjoying the music, and diving off the platform into the translucent waters. A must-do for any visitor to Fiji.
Back at the resort, we walked the almost-deserted beach every morning, the water tickling our toes and the sun’s gentle rays warming our skin. By day three, we were moving as slowly as the languid, tropical air. Even our muscles (usually screaming for attention) felt relaxed, probably thanks to the incredible couple’s massage we’d enjoyed on the beachfront the night before!
Food & drink
For me, discovering new foods is one of the best parts of travelling. I love trying new dishes and then attempting them at home — not always successfully, but I give it my best shot. Because Fiji has a large Indian population, Fijian curries are very popular with locals, and they will probably encourage you to order them wherever you dine. Don’t worry, they’re not trying to palm off surplus curry; they want you to try it and love it as much as they do.
Chicken curry is so famous that it’s now one of the country’s national dishes, along with ‘Fijian lovo’, a traditional banquet cooked using an earth oven. Often reserved for special occasions, the lovo oven is a pit dug in the ground with hot coals placed inside, and the food is then covered with banana leaves and left for several hours. A must-try if you have the opportunity.
Over four nights dining at the resort’s Flame Tree Restaurant, we tried local dishes including Ika Vakalolo (fish in coconut cream), Chicken Curry (believe the hype, it’s sensational), and delicious Kokoda. This traditional dish is made by marinating raw fish in lime then adding red onion, green capsicum, red chilli, spring onions, tomatoes, and coconut cream (I learnt how to prepare this at my cooking class!).
The Lomani Salad, made with green coconut, papaya, pineapple, cucumber, tomato, and coconut dressing, was also divine. Just add calamari, fish, chicken or coconut prawns and you have a gourmet meal you’ll want to replicate at home.
Every dinner was accompanied by a local duo who strummed and played like virtuosos, their beautiful voices a soothing background to the happy chatter of the diners. On Saturday nights, the Polynesian Dance and Fire Show adds a dynamic element to this memorable feast.
As much as I love Fijian culture and tradition, I decided to sit out the kava ceremony this time. A peppery, muddy taste I have never quite acquired, kava is the country’s national drink, believed to have numerous medicinal qualities. However, like walking on hot coals (which I have also tried), you might want to give it a go … at least once.
We escaped to this tropical paradise amid Australia’s coldest winter in decades (with illness sweeping through every state and territory) and arrived tense, tired, and uneasy.
Just four days later, we left relaxed and happy with a lightness of being and huge smiles. Lomani Island Resort is a place where you can take a real break from the pressures and stress of life; it’s a luxurious, laidback, and authentic retreat. Best of all, it’s affordable. lomaniisland.com
Need to know
Getting to Fiji
Fiji Airways is the flag carrier airline and operates international services from its hubs in Fiji to 13 countries and 23 cities. This year (2022) they will also commence flights to Vancouver, Canada. fijiairways.com
Getting to Lomani Island Resort
By water: Malolo Cat is Malolo Lailai Island’s own private high-speed catamaran boat service, taking under an hour from Port Denarau Marina. Four scheduled services depart daily, the earliest is 7.30 am and the latest is 5.30 pm. malolocat.com
By air: Joyce Aviation Group has helicopters and light planes that can be booked to and from Plantation Island runway. Because we had an early-morning flight home, we returned from Lomani by light plane and in 15 minutes we were checking in for our flight! joyceaviationfijigroup.com
Staying in Nadi (capital of Fiji)
Our inbound flight didn’t arrive until late afternoon, so we took the opportunity to stay near the airport at Fiji Gateway Hotel, a tropical and tranquil property with five-star service. The hotel had the feel of an old colonial building but was modern in every way with a pool, gym, tennis court, bar and restaurant. fijigateway.com
Best time to travel to Fiji
If you’re wondering when to plan your Fiji holiday, keep in mind this is a year-round destination — but the very best weather can be found between April and October. During these months, temperatures are slightly cooler. December to March make up the wet season (with chance of cyclones).
Planning your trip to Fiji
Tourism Fiji is the voice of tourism in the country and an excellent first stop when planning your trip (look out for their special packages). At time of writing, all visitors 12+ years must prebook a RAT to take shortly after arrival. More information can be found at fiji.travel